6 min read

iPhone 15 review - a solid upgrade with few surprises

Apple iPhone 15 Plus.

There are few surprises in the iPhone 15 Plus. Many of the features that separate the 15 Plus from the iPhone 14 Plus were first introduced last year in the iPhone 14 Pro models.

It's a decent upgrade. You'll notice enough pleasing small tweaks and improvements to keep you satisfied if you're coming from the iPhone 14.

Not that you should be upgrading your phone every year. Give the environment a break.

With phones now staying in use for more than three years, it's far more likely and more sensible to choose the iPhone 15 as an upgrade from an iPhone 11, 12 or an even older model.

If that's the case, you will notice a huge leap in features and performance. And the camera will be a revelation.

Display size

While the review phone is an iPhone 15 Plus, almost every comment and observation applies to the 15. The two have similar specifications, but with different screen sizes.

The 15 has a 6.1-inch display. Prices start at NZ$1650 for the base model. The NZ$1850 15 Plus has a 6.7-inch display.

These prices are for phones with 128GB of storage. That can be plenty of storage if you use iCloud and don't carry a large media library. Otherwise pay $200 more for the 256GB model or $600 more for an iPhone 15 with 512GB.

The practical gap between iPhone 15 and 15 Plus screen sizes is huge. Choose the Plus if you need to do a lot of visual work on your phone. Spending an extra NZ$200 on the larger phone could be money well spent.

The larger size is much better for writing anything more than a couple of sentences or reading large amounts of text. Video makes more sense on the bigger screen and so do many apps. The Plus size screen is an absolute must if your eyesight is weak.

Familiar format

From the outside the basic form of the iPhone hasn't changed a great deal since 2017's iPhone X. The front is edge-to-edge glass with the thinnest possible bezel. The rear features a camera cluster.

If you had an iPhone 14, you'll notice the 15 is more curvy where the aluminium frame meets the front and back glass. Apple says it has a new contoured edge design, but your fingers will think it feels smoother.

The iPhone 15 colours are new too. The review phone is pale pink. This colour is in the back glass panel and again on the phone's metallic frame.

There are two volume buttons, an on-off switch and a silent mode switch which, in the latest phones, doubles as an 'action button'. Over the years there have been tweaks, but casual observers might struggle to name the exact post iPhone X model they are looking at.

Build quality

Phones in this price range all have good build quality. The iPhone 15 is well put together. You might struggle to pull it apart if you plan to do any of your own repairs. That's something that Apple has made easier on the whole, but take it from someone who has pulled phones apart, experienced specialists will almost certainly do a better job than you.

It feels as if the big evolutionary steps are over. Apple could, perhaps one day will, make a folding phone. Yet while the models on offer from the company's rivals are decent enough, they still feel a touch unfinished and are more of a novelty than a breakthrough.

Apple's iPhone 15 Pro has a titanium case. The iPhone 15 and 15 plus models do not. Likewise the lower cost 15 and 15 Plus don't get the Action Button and, while they do have USB-C connectors, they don't feature the file transfer speed increase seen in the Pro models.


While the 15 and 15 Plus don't get higher speed transfers, you can use the USB-C port to hook your phone up with a large display.

Apple could have left it another year to switch from the Lightning port to USB-C. The European regulations which insist phone makers must standardise on the connector don't kick in until the end of next year. Yet moving now makes sense.

Having one standard port simplifies life, you can borrow a charge from your Android-owning friends. Otherwise it won't have a huge effect. If you have an existing set of AirPods you need the Lightning connector.

Dynamic Island

One of the most noticeable changes from iPhone 15 to 15 is the phones now use Apple's Dynamic Island. This is the part of the screen surrounding the front camera. Dynamic Island gets used by apps to show information,

The screen is a Super Retina XDR OLED. It has 460 pixels per inch. Apple's less expensive phones don't have the adaptive screen refresh rates, they stick with 60 Hz.

If you are coming from an older iPhone, you may not notice any difference in this department. You will notice the extra screen brightness. We can talk about nits of brightness here if you like, but suffice to say the screen is bright enough for you to see it when outside in the sun.

Processor power

Apple has settled into a model where new standard iPhone models get the processor chips from last year's Pro models.

This year the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus get the A16 Bionic chip that powered the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max.

Without losing your interest by bombarding you with technical nuances, the important thing to keep in mind is that this year's standard iPhones are faster than this year's top-of-the-line Android phones. When it comes to processor power, Apple is at least a year ahead.

If you play games on your phone, you'll find this is plenty to be getting on with. It's more than enough to cope with the most demanding iOS apps you may want to run.

Battery life

The iPhone 15 models have fractionally more battery life than last year's iPhone 14 models. It's noticeable. You might squeeze an extra 30 minutes from the device. Unless you constantly run HD video, you can expect to get 24 hours continual use.

In practice I can go two whole days between charging the 15 Plus. The one time I needed to look for power before two days were up was when I had a 5AM start and a late evening.

Charging is fast. It takes about half an hour to get from zero to 50 per cent. I timed this and found times vary from 30 to 35 minutes. Getting all the way to 100 per cent takes around 90 minutes. In other words, if you wake up to a near dead phone, you can have plenty to work with by the time you've showered, dressed and enjoyed breakfast with a pre-work hot beverage.


Phone cameras continue to evolve. We don't see the leaps in phone camera features and capabilities that we did five years to a decade ago, but there is refinement.

Apple has boosted the main camera on the iPhone 15 to 48 megapixels. That's up from 12 mp on the iPhone 14. In use a standard picture uses 24 megapixels. What this means in practice is that it does a better job in low light conditions.

Otherwise, you won't notice a huge difference in the photo quality moving from an iPhone 14 to an iPhone 15 Plus until you zoom in for a closer look at the detail.

That's nice, but this is useful if you are the kind of camera user who likes to crop photos to get the best image from each shot. Those extra pixels and details mean you can crop more aggressively without losing quality.

Almost four years ago my iPhone 11 review said it's hard taking bad pictures. The iPhone 15 takes better pictures than the iPhone 11. You can capture more depth and have more options when it comes to editing pictures.

Speaking of editing pictures, that's a strength on the iPhone 15. You can do more editing on the phone, although you can do this better if you have the large iPhone 15 Plus screen.

The other big camera upgrade for the iPhone 15 is that it now does optical zoom. Apple has added a 2x telephoto option. This is an area where iPhone critics can argue Apple is falling behind Samsung and, not that you see the phones in New Zealand any more, Huawei.

Like a lot of features, Apple doesn't get there first, but it does get things right. The iPhone 15 zoom uses only the pixels in the centre of the sensor which results in clearer zoom pictures.

Verdict - Apple iPhone 15 Plus

Phone upgrades in the mid 2020s tend towards incremental. There's enough in the iPhone 15 Plus to make upgrading worthwhile. It feels like a significant upgrade moving from an iPhone 11 or 12 to a 15. In effect you can get most of the features of last year's iPhone 14 Pro at a lower price.

There's a review model iPhone 15 Pro sitting on the desk next to the 15 Plus. (Expect a review next week). The more expensive phone takes even better photos. If photography is important to you, then spend the extra. Otherwise, the iPhone 15 Plus is a solid choice.